Creature Comforts

Veterinary misnomers and myths (an incomplete list)

“Well, if you don’t let me ride my bike around the block, then I’m not going grocery shopping with you,” my son said. Although it was years ago, I remember it as if it were yesterday.

“As if you have a choice,” I warned, my temper rising, “We don’t take ultimatums from 7-year-olds around here.”

“Yeah,” my 5-year-old daughter piped up, “We don’t take old tomatoes from you or anybody.”

And she’s right: nobody likes old tomatoes. Except maybe our tortoise — the squishier, the better as far as he’s concerned. But this exchange got me thinking about my love of words and plays-on-words. I enjoy hearing them — they make me chuckle, so I figured I’d share a few of the misnomers and myths I’ve heard pertaining to veterinary medicine over the years.

If you have used any of these misnomers or have been guilty of believing some of the myths I’ve discussed here, don’t be embarrassed. We all do it — we sing the wrong words to a song, we repeat something we heard incorrectly, we arrive at the wrong conclusions, we ask stupid questions. It happens. Here we go:

Your dog did not tear his “crucial” ligament. Although one might argue that the cruciate ligament in the knee is crucial to walking normally, it is called “cruciate” because there are two of them and they cross (cruciate means “forming a cross shape”) within the knee joint, serving to stabilize the joint and keep the bones from sliding across one another during movement.

“Prostrate” is an acceptable (but not preferred) position for a canine patient to be assuming while having a prostate exam performed. The prostate gland is present in all mammal males, and is typically checked in dogs via rectal exam for enlargement, pain, asymmetry, etc. We tend to skip this exam in cats and ferrets and other tiny creatures for obvious reasons, and fortunately, prostate problems in these species are rare. Animals that have been neutered tend to have fewer problems with enlargement of the prostate gland.

Neutered applies to either sex. In my field, it generally refers to castration (the surgical removal of the testicles). The female equivalent is called a spay procedure (the surgical removal of the ovaries and uterus). So, if you had your cat spayed, it means she has undergone an ovariohysterectomy, and cannot get pregnant, will no longer have heat (estrus) cycles, and will not get ovarian or uterine cancer. If you tell people you had your cat “spaded” they may think you took her out and conked her with a spade, which is not very nice.

Unfortunately, if you have a dog that is not very nice, you can’t just bring him in to the veterinarian for a “distemperment shot” to change his attitude. You can have him vaccinated against canine distemper, a very serious viral disease that can cause gastrointestinal and neurologic illness, permanent damage, and death. While you’re at it, make sure he gets his rabies vaccine, to protect him from that, too. If your dog spends time outdoors running through the weeds, you might also consider the Lyme disease vaccine. But please note: “rabies” is not the plural of “rabie” and it is Lyme, not lyme’s or limes or lime’s. Lyme disease has nothing to do with a citrus fruit — it is named for the place it was first noted, Old Lyme, Connecticut.

All dogs have webbed feet. Look. Cats, too.

Most people who say their pet had “kidney stones” removed actually mean bladder stones. I also heard one owner claim his dog vomited up a kidney stone. As the GI tract and the urinary tracts don’t directly connect, this would be very rare, indeed.

I have had owners claim a cat has not urinated at all for weeks. This is a biological impossibility. My standard answer for these cases: look in unusual places.

Unless you nearly severed your dog’s toe while trimming its nails or the dog has a bleeding disorder, it is very unlikely that he will bleed to death from a toenail injury.

Cutting porcupine quills to “let the air in” is a ridiculous notion, and should never be done. Cutting the quills makes it much harder to pull them out, as there is less to grab.

Applying various household products (including, but not limited to peanut butter, alcohol and fire) to an embedded tick on an animal’s skin is ill advised, and dangerous. Remove ticks with tweezers, please.

“He’s learned his lesson — he’ll never do that again.” No he didn’t and yes, he might. Veterinarians see repeat offenders. Regularly.

And although dogs don’t care about ultimatums, in case of skunk-spray, it might be actually useful to keep a few “old tomatoes” around.

Daverio is a veterinarian at Williamsport West Veterinary Hospital. Her column is published every other Sunday in the Lifestyle section. She can be reached at